Students spread the message of Christmas to veterans in Washington

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A Trail Life Troop in Clifton not only collected candy and Christmas cards for veterans at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, they delivered them personally Dec. 10 to show love and spread Christmas cheer.

“Christmas is about charity and love, and this provides charity and cheer to the veterans,” said Bob Gallagher, troop leader for St. Andrew the Apostle Church’s middle school and high school Trailmen, a Christ-centered outdoor adventure program for boys in kindergarten through 12th grade that allows troops to charter through churches.

The Trailmen, on their third annual visit to the facility, home to more than 400 veterans, were joined by troop family members, St. Andrew parishioners and students from Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Dumfries.

James and Megan McCaskey, students at Saint John Paul the Great, began the card effort at the school three years ago. A couple of weeks ago, they and other students staffed a table during lunch periods to invite students to write cards to the veterans. Sophomore Teddy Durant said it was a way to give back.

“My dad is a veteran, so I understand the sacrifices they make and how hard it is to readjust to civilian life,” he said. “I sent a brief message of appreciation, wished them a Merry Christmas and promised to pray for them.”

Junior Camryn Stryker believes the cards reinforce the real meaning of Christmas.

“I think it might mean more to someone to receive real, heartfelt word of thanks rather than a store-bought gift,” she said. “It’s a very small way to give back and show appreciation.”

Senior Sam Davis said he thanked the veterans for their service and told them they are heroes.

The Trail Life Troop collected cards from various organizations, including St. Andrew School, the parish youth ministry group, religious education classes and parishioners; students and parents of Saint John Paul the Great; the Oakwood School in Annandale; Cub Scout Pack No. 416 in Albuquerque, N.M., and a Boy Scout Troop in Manassas.

St. Andrew’s Trail Life Troop, which started in 2014, is one of four Catholic Trail Life Troops in the Arlington Diocese, according Anita McCaskey, committee chair. The troop is in its third year serving the community.

Seeing the students and family makes a difference to the residents. Amanda Jensema, a recreation therapist at the Armed Forces Retirement Home, said the event is nice for the residents.

“Some residents share and chitchat and some just grab the candy and head inside for lunch,” she said.

For Andres Lopez, a freshman at Westfield High School in Chantilly and Trailmen member, it was his second time participating in the event. “I like to respect the veterans and thank them for what they have done,” he said. “I feel like they feel loved when we come here.”

And the veterans were grateful for the visit.

“It’s nice we weren’t forgotten,” said Lucien J. Bilodeau. “We’re sort of isolated out here. To see people is nice.” Rudolf Liskovec said the visit shows that somebody cares.

Francisco Lopez, another troop leader, said the Trailmen spend a lot of time focused on outdoor activities. “This teaches them to visit the elderly. In a way, it is like the beginning of military life.” The veterans share stories of how they were involved in Scouts, and as Lopez pointed out, “Scouts and the military life go together.” 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016